Achiltibuie – ‘the field of the yellow-haired boy’, as it translates from Gaelic – is a Highland gem. Set beside an island-studded bay and watched over by mountains and eagles, this linear village makes a great base to explore the surrounding Coigach Peninsula just north of Ullapool.
Road to Achiltibuie
Heading up the coast from the harbour town, marvel at Ben More Coigach rising above the sea by Ardmair. Then, on smaller roads, pass by the iconic hill of Stac Pollaidh and a series of freshwater lochs amid carpets of bog cotton. The long and winding single-track road that leads on exemplifies the simple, unhurried charm of this special, ancient place, home to some of the world’s oldest gneisses.
The name Coigach means ‘place of the fifths’, from an early Celtic custom of dividing land into five parts. It comprises five townships: Achduart, Achnacarinan, Acheninver, Achnahaird and Achiltibuie.
As you near Achiltibuie, the mesmerising Summer Isles – just off the shingle shore – command attention. Beyond this jumble of land and rock, one of Scotland’s greatest mountain ranges, Torridon, forms an impressive backdrop to the south.
The friendly locals share their beautiful location with a wide array of creatures. White-tailed eagles may be seen by the sheltered lochs, along with visiting ospreys. Stoats, weasels, pine martens and adders reside on land, and the coastal waters are home to dolphins, basking sharks and curious otters.
Ospreys are making a comeback in the UK, with Scotland being their stronghold. (Photo by John Wright)
For a good three-mile return walk, drive beyond the Summer Isles Hotel – with its delightful beer garden, food and coffee – to Culnacraig, parking on the grass by a bridge. Follow the track through a field by a croft. Alder, birch and hardy rowan in all their summer finery line the burn. Pass some houses, then follow a sign on the right down a muddy, narrow path with superb sea views. At a faint fork on the way to Strathcanaird, take the lower option and head towards a marker. Extensive views of the mainland and islands now open up.
Make for a cairn before heading diagonally and then straight down to the shore. Here, the shapely igneous rocks look as if they have only just cooled from magma.
Walk for five minutes before crossing a stream, then boulder hop to a second burn. This marks the point to turn back, but allow plenty of time to tarry.